1. Staying up late eating homemade nachos and drinking Coke while "shooting the breeze."
2. Going to see the John Travolta movie "A Civil Action", just the two of us--the last movie we saw together in the theater.
3. Teaching me a "special" method for making golden-brown pancakes (it's all about the bubbles).
4. Driving to Wal-Mart after midnight to loiter and shop for absolutely nothing.
The summer after she died, my father and I took a month long coast-to-coast road trip together. By the trip's end, we'd gone about 8000 miles, covered 20 states, and put our feet in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I was very fortunate that my life circumstances at the time allowed me to make this trip. (Certainly couldn't--and wouldn't--want to do it now with Big Brother and Little Brother. Thank you to Busy-Mom-E for being so understanding--we were engaged at the time). That said, it was some of the best times I'd ever had with my dad.
By now, you're probably wondering why I'm dusting off these skeletons, and more importantly, what the heck they have to do with outdoor playsets and digital cameras?
The answer is this:
My parents did so much for me over the years. They fostered opportunities, encouraged me to be involved in activities, sat through or helped coach all of those activities, drove my friends and I all over tarnation, paid for years of education, etc. In short, they did everything in their power to give me opportunities, some of which they didn't have.
And while I am thankful and grateful for all of the above, in the end, what I remember most is the "quality time" we spent together.
In short, it doesn't matter so much what we did, but rather that we did things together. During those late night conversations or 1000's of miles on the road with only fields to look at, we talked. We talked about dreams, goals, frustrations, fears. We laughed, we cried, we philosophized. Nothing was off limits.
I want the same thing for my relationship with my boys. When I'm playing with Legos or Thomas the Train or PlayDoh with Big Brother, for example, sure we're having fun, but I'm also laying the groundwork for that open communication with him. The same holds for Little Brother, but we're earlier in the process with him.
Right now we talk about Blues Clues, or that the PlayDoh is sick, or what kind of bridge we're going to build, or what shape track we'll make. But someday soon (that day is coming too soon), we'll talk about "big stuff."
"Dad-E, I think this girl in my class is cute." "Dad-E, some of my (soon not-to-be) friends talk about smoking and drinking." "Dad-E, I want to be an architect when I grow up." "Dad-E, it scares me when..." You get the idea. The key is that we'll talk.
If I'm so lucky as to win the contest, Big Brother (and Little Brother) and I will build the playset together, even if it takes 3 times as long as if I built it myself. Mom-E will supervise. We'll have fun spending time outside. We'll learn about tools and safety. We'll share a lemonade to cool off. We'll make about 8,000 trips to the potty while building it because of the lemonade. And when it's built, we'll play on it until it's too dark and it falls apart (though it sounds like Kid's Creations builds such high-quality products that the boys will head off to college before that happens).
More than anything, however, we'll just enjoy spending that quality time together. I'll (try) to forget about my job and yardwork and dishes and laundry and soccer practice (can I PLEASE forget soccer practice-I need an Arnold "Total Recall" memory wipe for that trauma) and all of the other hustles and bustles of daily life.
Instead, I'll concentrate on listening to my boys, and what they think and feel. And the boys, well at least Big Brother, will remember it forever, as the pictures of their facial expressions will reveal.
There's not a particularly special reason that I should win this playset above any other devoted dad. Father's want the best for their children. Even if I don't win, I'll still find ways to spend that time with my boys.
The opportunity is one that is too important to miss.